CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Nov. 9 is a date that resonates with coaches Sergio Mendoza of Kadena and Kubasaki’s Fred Bales.

That’s the day the Panthers and Dragons met for the biggest Pacific football prize of all: The Far East Division I title, something Kubasaki happened to win 34-31 in overtime after losing the regular-season series to Kadena two games to one.

“It’s a great rivalry, all these games we’ve played these last few years,” Bales said during a Thursday walk-through at Mike Petty Stadium, site of where the teams will tee it up next. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. Friday.

“These games have been extremely competitive and we expect this one to be, too. It will be a terrific challenge for us.”

Kadena has beaten its three foes by a combined 130-13, while Kubasaki struggled in its first game but rebounded in its second.

Kadena is currently “playing at a very high level, they have some serious playmakers,” Bales said. “We have the opportunity to play a very good game with them.”

Panthers coach Sergio Mendoza calls the Dragons a “really strong team that’s really coached well. I think it’s going to be a tough game.”

While the teams have enjoyed some high moments since the advent of the Far East playoffs, now in their 10th season, they’ve also suffered their share of heartache as well.

Kadena has won the D-I title three times, and by wide margins, in 2007, 2009 and 2010. But the Panthers have also lost three D-I finals - two in overtime - by a combined 10 points.

“You kind of remember the losses more than the wins,” Mendoza said. “Those were some really important lessons. I learned a lot. You tend to learn more from the losses. It helps you better prepare to play.”

The Dragons enjoyed their share of the thrill of victory, with a title in 2005 to go with the one last fall, and the agony of defeat: two blowout losses in 2011 and 2012 at Yokota.

“We share the same pain,” Bales said. “It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. But this is this year’s team, this is this year’s season. We’ll take this one game at a time.”

While Kadena can take charge of the D-I race with a victory, the Dragons can throw it wide open if they win.

Nile C. Kinnick, 1-0 in Division I, could also benefit from a Kubasaki victory, which would give the Dragons and Panthers one loss each. Kinnick on Saturday hosts Seoul American.

Saturday also sees football return to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni for the first time since the 2003 season when the Matthew C. Perry Samurai host Sotoku, a Japanese team from Hiroshima. Yokota looks to unseat American School In Japan and continue chasing its 32nd Kanto Plain title on Saturday.

Friday also sees a couple of Division II battles. Osan visits Daegu, the former looking for its first win and the latter aiming to solidify its spot atop the DODDS Korea standings. Robert D. Edgren travels to Zama, each looking for its first win.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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